In Early Stages, Litigation Against Vaping Companies Starts to Take Shape
Lawyers weigh in on evolving landscape of lawsuits

by Julia Cardi

A groundswell of litigation and regulations for vape products has come quickly along with publicized cases of illnesses that are thought to be linked to vaping.

In September, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a ban on sales of flavored vape products. In June, San Francisco banned the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes altogether.

Litigation has come in a few different main types of cases: lawsuits against companies for their marketing practices, personal injury claims for health problems, and lawsuits by local governments and school districts for damages to reclaim the resources they say they have spent on anti-vaping efforts and to combat public health consequences.

In October, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the consolidation of more than 50 claims against Juul Labs in the Northern District of California. They include class action suits about claims of deceptive marketing and personal injury suits about health problems allegedly linked to vaping. With major litigation still in early stages, the overall landscape of suits against vaping companies is still taking shape, and it’s not clear yet whether it will mimic the lawsuits against Big Tobacco in past decades.

Mike O’Donnell, chair of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, said personal injury claims aren’t pursued as class action suits because the circumstances of health problems vary from one person to the next, which makes the claims difficult to lump together.

A partner at a national law firm, who asked not to be named because of potential client conflicts, said the wave of vaping lawsuits have come in a new era of “public harm” litigation, in which issues such as the opioid crisis and climate change are framed as harming public safety, rather than just putting the attention on the damage to individual plaintiffs’ health. But they said they’re doubtful about putting vaping on the same plane as those other issues.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the Nov. 4, 2019 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.